Thursday, July 31, 2008

ARE YOU READY FOR SOME... um... quad toe loops?

What if skating had a theme song?

I don’t mean the ones they used to kick off Wide World of Sports or CBS Sports Spectacular. I’m thinking more along the lines of Hank Williams Jr., who has been the voice behind ABC/ESPN Monday Night Football since 1989 (and is currently recording a new version of the “anthem” in Nashville). I haven’t a clue how it goes, but nonetheless I know the key line:
Are you ready for some football???

That’s all you need. A hook. A killer riff on a piano or guitar. A well-enough known song, used repeatedly for the same purpose. I’m not saying skating would be as big as football if only it had The Jonas Brothers warbling something bearing the chorus Let’s hit the ice… it’d be so nice. But wouldn’t it be cool to hear one of the following tunes and know, without giving it a second thought, that a Grand Prix event (or Nationals, or Worlds, etc.) was imminent?

-- Under Pressure by Queen & David Bowie. I’m showing my age already with this one, but how could anyone miss that incredible bass line? It could have fans salivating like Pavlov’s dogs. (As long as everyone promised not to call it Ice Ice Baby by mistake—that is unforgivable)

-- Right Now by Van Halen. Can this song really be 20 years old? No, really?? The stuff of Pepsi ads, fascinating videos getting saturation airplay on MTV, and… oh, wait, it HAS been about 20 years since MTV actually played music videos. My bad. Anyway, I’m not much of a VH1 fan whether the lead singer is David, Sammy, or that guy from the band Extreme. But this song has it all—gentle piano riff, meaty guitar underpinnings, inspiring lyrics, drums a video editor dies for (it’s a lot easier to edit an open to a show to a great “beat”—trust me on that).

-- Lose Yourself by Eminem. I’m not much of an Eminem fan either, but if you stick with the chorus and skip the majority of the verses, this song is a killer fit for skating (Lose yourself in the music, the moment, one shot, opportunity comes once in a lifetime, etc.). Don’t tell Marshall Mathers that, though… I’m guessing he’s not much of a rink rat.

-- The Underdog by Spoon. If you haven’t heard of this one (and it’s kind of obscure at this point, so don’t feel bad), go find a copy of Spoon’s current CD Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and maybe this song will pump you up as much as it does me. It doesn’t sport the super-appropos words of my other suggestions, but it’s got horns, drums, and a built-in competitor’s creed, of sorts: “You got no fear of the underdog/That’s why you will not survive!” Take that, Evan Lysacek! Or… Johnny Weir! Or… I don’t know. Apply it as you see fit.

I know I’m only scratching the surface here, particularly because I’ve failed to include any songs recorded by women. And I suspect a few of these have been used in association with skating at one time or another. But in any case, we're still lacking a theme song. Go ahead… what would you suggest?

For the Clip of the Day I couldn't resist putting "underdog" and "figure skating" into the You Tube browser... and came up with Paul Wylie's Olympic medal-winning free skate from '92. Lucky us!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Here Comes Self-Help Scotty

Get ready to consider a new book for your personal library, come early next year. Scott Hamilton already penned his autobiography a few years back, but according to this article, he’s about to enter the self-help market with the release of The Great Eight in January. Or, “eight concepts to guide you towards building that happy muscle in your soul,” he explains in the article.

Which might sound a little clich├ęd, but if there’s anyone in the skating community—in any community—to write something like that, it should be him. The childhood illness, the brain tumor, the cancer… the string of international championships, the Olympic Gold Medal, the founding of Stars on Ice, at least a dozen other things of significance… yep, I might take a peek at his book.

I say this even though I secretly rooted for his U.S. rival, David Santee, back in the day. I couldn’t help it; Santee lived about 30 minutes away from me when I was growing up! (Besides, my efforts didn’t seem to thwart Hamilton much.)

Their combined competitive heyday arguably hit its peak in 1981, when Hamilton/Santee took gold & silver not only at Nationals, but Worlds too. The
Clip of the Day showcases Hamilton’s part in that Worlds battle and features some classic Button & McKay commentary. Watch for the little slip up near the end, when McKay shouts “And down he goes!!”, and Button spends the next 20 seconds assuring everyone it shouldn’t count much against him.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Birthday "Button"

From the “better late than never” department: HAPPY BIRTHDAY DICK BUTTON!!

I was talking about something skating-related to my beloved sister-in-law a few days back. She doesn’t follow the sport, and midway through our conversation (during which I brought up Mr. Button’s name a few times) she cut me off in a hesitant tone: “I’m sorry, but this time I have to ask… who is Dick Button?”

It happens.

It never happened to me because I can’t remember watching TV without watching skating, and I can’t remember watching skating without Mr. Button. Beard or no beard, gold ABC blazer or tuxedo, with Jim McKay or Terry Gannon, he’s been there. Even when he seems to have assumed the role of the Grumpy Old Man (as some of my friends suggested after watching the 2006 Olympics)… his comments sometimes make him a charter member of the Things That Make You Go ‘Hmmm’ Society, but to get a glowing review from “Uncle Dick” must be close to Olympic gold for any elite figure skater. (And yes, he still gives plenty of ‘em, grumpy or not.)

In honor of the day I missed—he turned 79 last Friday—I’ll give you two links.
This one, which should take you to the drinking game bearing his name at the marvelous Frogs On Ice website, I first discovered 10 years ago. It’s still funny after all these years, and I don’t even drink!

The other link of course is the
Clip of the Day … in his 1948 heyday, as shown at some point on ESPN Classic. Karen, if you’re reading—THIS is Dick Button.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Wide World of Other Sports

So did you know skating was back on ESPN this week?

Yup, there it was. World Championship coverage from 4 months ago, on ESPN 2, on Monday night, running up against MLB All-Star activities on their primary channel. Counterprogramming, it’s called—snag the primarily female viewership when it’s not as likely they might be tuning in to the main event. I think they’ve run Four Continents against the Super Bowl for the past few years on the exact same principle.

It makes me wonder what they’ll do once ESPN’s rights to figure skating coverage run out, presumably sometime this fall. There’s been a lot of criticism of ESPN’s use (and some say abuse) of the rights over this past decade. Events started too late, they weren’t consistently programmed, they were constantly pre-empted for no good reason… I’ve even interviewed TV producers (from other networks, of course) that believe ESPN effectively “ruined the sport” with their slipshod approach.

But to be fair, they’ve likely played fast and loose with a number of other sports—meaning, anything that isn’t football, baseball, or basketball. After all, they’ve got an awful lot of time to fill. And you can only rerun SportsCenter oh, maybe 12 or 13 times a day, right?

It’s with those “other sports”, I guess, that they’ll fill the sizable void once they don’t have skating to kick around anymore. Allow my adoration for David Letterman to kick in for a few minutes, won’t you, as I offer up MY TOP 5 NEW COUNTERPROGRAMMING OFFERINGS AT ESPN:

5) Celebrity Hairstyling. Hey, after watching the latest Maria Menunos shampoo ad a few times, I’m convinced—getting full-bodied curls is an endurance sport!

4) Stiletto Track & Field. With all the publicity the annual high-heel 150-yard dash brings nowadays, can a full-fledged event be far behind? (Note: watch out for puncture marks on that big pad they land on after the high jump. Yikes!)

3) Women’s Basketball. Because it’s treated like a third-class sport right now... might as well bump it up to second-class.

2) Beefcake Staredown. Just put a new photo of a hot guy up on the screen every 30 seconds. No commentary, no commercials… maybe just some Weather Channel-esque light jazz in the background. So easy!

And #1… Chick Flick Sports Central. Because if the Golf Channel can still find reasons to run Caddyshack after 28 years, ESPN2 should have no problem with a 30th anniversary edition of Ice Castles.

The Clip of the Day pays homage to ESPN’s best counterprogramming effort with Mao Asada’s 2008 performance at 4CC.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Tales From The "Up and Down" Girl

First off, a correction: the link I posted last week to Janet Lynn’s marvelous speech does not appear to work anymore. If you were looking for it, give this link a try instead.

It’s Janet’s heir to the throne I wanted to mention today. I’m winding my way through Dorothy Hamill’s recent book release A Skating Life: My Story, and I thought it served as a good excuse to make her infamous 1974 Worlds pre-performance “meltdown” a
Clip of the Day.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not poking fun at the incident at all. Anyone who knows my propensity to cry at the drop of a Kleenex commercial would call me back ten yards if I even hinted a grin over the “trauma” Hamill experienced in those minutes just prior to her silver medal-winning performance. I thought it would be interesting, though, to run the clip alongside her comments about it in her book:

I was dealing with the hormonal mood swings of teenagedom, a family who was sacrificing their last dime to keep me here, and a mother too clinically depressed to find any happiness in my success. It’s no wonder that I had an emotional moment of discomposure right on the ice at Worlds…

“The event was in Munich, Germany, and I didn’t know the crowd was supporting their German skater (due to low marks she’d received). They announced my name and the boos got louder and louder. So I thought it was because of me! I broke down in tears and skated off the ice… some in the crowd must have seen how upset I was. Suddenly the booing turned to cheers… I took a deep breath, composing myself… I skated well enough to earn the silver medal, second to Christine Errath of East Germany

Do you think her recollection would be even more interesting if it had Dick Button popping in every now and again, saying things like “That’s what happens when you’re an ‘up and down’ girl” and chiding her (however mildly) for being “emotional”?

Or might it just spark someone to say in an older, wiser time, “Let’s hear a little more about that family history of clinical depression”…

Which she does expand on in the book, by the way. It’s an enjoyable read thus far, albeit very sad and frustrating in parts. Have you read it yet? If so, what did you think of it?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

For the Love of a Great Skating Mom

It’s always sad to hear when a person passes away, but when that person was a parent to someone you know of—even if it’s only by name—it becomes a little more profound. So when I learned today (via this article ) that Elizabeth Manley’s mother just died, I had to give a sad little sigh.

As with so many “skating moms”, Joan and Liz Manley surely shared a bond uniquely woven by early-morning drives, long hours in cold rinks, concession-stand coffee, encouraging words for every well-landed jump… and patience. Patience to sit in the stands with a book or some needlework for patch session after patch session, but also patience to weather the thousands of heartbreaking competitions along the road to success. In Manley’s case, she apparently did it all as a single mom. That’s a feat in itself. But what better reward could there have been than sitting there in the stands at the Calgary Olympics, watching your daughter give the proverbial “skate of her life” to win a surprise silver medal in her home country?

Liz Manley’s show-stealing free skate at the ’88 Games is, of course, the Clip of the Day. You can see her mom in the stands at about 4:40 into the clip. Here’s hoping her place in heaven is warm, cozy, and provides ample time for her to brag on her family.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

When Janet Lynn Speaks…

…Hopefully, people listen. With the intensity of a thousand suns.

I’m not old enough to remember Janet Lynn’s era personally, but I like to think I’m wise enough to cherish it just the same. From the time my ballet teacher (who worked with Lynn at some point in her career) kept a newspaper article on the skater posted in the tiny lobby of her dance studio, with Lynn’s radiant smile lighting up the wood paneling like no amount of neon or twinkling lights could ever do, I had a sense she was someone very special.

For the most part, as you probably know already, Lynn has stayed out of the spotlight and focused her considerable creative energy not on coaching, or commentating, or judging… but on raising five sons. That doesn’t mean she’s lost touch with figure skating, though. Far from it.

Last week I stumbled across this link to the transcript of a speech Lynn recently gave at 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Governing Council Dinner. “From Whence Comes the Joy of Figure Skating?” is its title, and at 12 pages, you’ll definitely need to set aside a few minutes to read it in its entirety. I strongly recommend you do so. Lynn’s commentary on the direction her sport is taking may echo the frustrations of countless fans and skaters, but it does so with a perspective and tenderness that few others can achieve. “I have stored up a lot to say over 25 years!” she proclaims in the opening lines… indeed she has, and here’s hoping the USFS picks up the gauntlet she threw down so brilliantly at the speech’s end.

And since she references her “Afternoon of a Faun” program in the speech, I’ve got her 1983 revival of that program as the Clip of the Day. (which you may need to cut and paste into your browser today-- sorry about that)